It isn’t really a case of good habits or bad, but a selection process of what you want to grow in your life.
Since making the move to our farm 16 years ago to have space to grow more of our food, I’ve developed a very practical appreciation for the importance of weeding my garden in a timely manner.
I define a “weed” as any plant that’s growing in a place where I don’t want it to grow. From that perspective, I may love a particular flowering plant, but if it’s growing in my mixed greens bed, it becomes a weed.
When a plant is in an inappropriate place, it draws necessary nutrients and water away from the desired plant. It may also grow to a point where it shades out or weakens the preferred plant, sucking all the life out of it. In the same way, I look at habits not as “good” or “bad,” but as either supporting growth in our lives — or reducing our overall effectiveness and enjoyment.
The word habit comes from the Latin word habitare and originally meant “dress or attire,” as in a nun’s habit. It is also found in the word “habitat,” used to describe a person’s usual or preferred surroundings.
In short, your habits are the mental, emotional, and physical activities that you’ve developed to provide structure, safety, pleasure and comfort in your life.
The majority of our habits are beneficial — such as exercise, eating, and sleeping. But when an inappropriate habit overshadows a desired one, the consequences weaken our capacity to contribute in the way we want.
For example, I love to read good books. But sometimes, when I lose focus or am tired, I allow my love of reading to crowd out getting my work done — especially some of the necessary but tedious tasks we all would just as soon avoid.
That’s where snacking, playing on social media, napping — even exercise — becomes an acceptable activity that’s been allowed to grow in an inappropriate place. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to the gym or cleaned my desk to get out of making an important phone call or other commitment I’d like to avoid.
But like weeds, eliminating an undesired habit is a lot easier to do before the roots of the habit find their way into the deep crevices of our lives and become painful to pull out. It’s tempting to dull our lives with over-drinking, over-eating, pornography, shopping, and binge TV-watching as ways of avoiding the important but difficult process of cultivating a deeper life of significance.
But unless we’re careful, the habits that we once allowed in to bring a little diversion become the activities that define who we are. Instead of living a life of significance, we find ourselves lost in the weeds, our purpose overshadowed by habits that we’ve allowed to outgrow their intended place.
Photo: Flickr/Ruth Hartnup